I spent the weekend babysitting my 8-year old nieces while my sister and brother-in-law got some much-needed time away for the first time since the pandemic started.
We were having an amazing weekend, filled with lots of activities —baking, making pizza, doing yoga, playing with bubbles, dance parties, picnics — lots of laughter, many teachable moments, (more to come on that in the coming days) and very little screen time.
Every moment was a magic moment; silly, playful, and joyful.
For me, it was an opportunity to put into practice many of the principles I teach about the importance of self-care as service and energy awareness. So in some ways, I probably could have anticipated that something would happen to test the joy.
And it did.
On Saturday evening, after making a batch of cookies and putting our homemade pizza in the oven, I saw a text message from my mom asking if I had seen the news.
Not the election news, which I had already heard from my sister, and which led to a remarkable conversation with my nieces, but more the news that one of my spiritual mentors — Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the UK, had died that morning.
It was the second piece of big news that day to reach me without my going looking for it (the first was when my sister texted to ask if I had told the girls about the election results) — proving once again that limiting my news consumption doesn’t mean I won’t be “in the know.” And proving, once again, that news and information have an energetic cost.
A Wave of Grief in a Sea of Joy
I did not know Rabbi Sacks personally, but for me, like for so many others, he was a steadfast moral compass whose presence will be missed beyond those in the Jewish community. His work has had a profound influence on me personally and on how I think about my work. If you’re a frequent reader of my blog, you might notice I quote him and cite his work often.
In the instant I saw the news, I felt my heart sink. As I physically remained standing in the same place in the kitchen, I could hear the sounds of the girls talking fade into the background.
One moment I was swimming in this vast sea of joy, frolicking in the grass, chasing bubbles, baking chocolate chip cookies and marveling at the wonders of life, and without warning I was sucked under by a massive wave of grief.
Part of me wished I could undo the moment, go back in time to the minute before I checked my phone, remain in my bliss a little while longer.
I didn’t want this grief to ruin the joyful magic with my nieces, to taint the beautiful memories were were making.
Can’t we have a moment of joy unencumbered by grief and sorrow?
Of course, I know that’s not how it works. Grief and joy are not at odds, each is contained within the other.
In fact, this teaching is one I learned repeatedly from Rabbi Sacks himself.
This is the enduring lesson of life: creation and destruction often arrive together, a partnership that clears out as it rebuilds.
Our practice is to expand our capacity to hold space for both joy and grief at the same time, to see one within the other, rather than viewing them in opposition. We can only know joy by knowing grief.
And this is what I endeavored to do.
Seeing Grief As An Enhancement of Joy
After a momentary pause to absorb the information, I returned myself back to the room, back to the girls. Instead of pushing away the grief, I allowed it to be there, welcoming it, and exploring how I could use it to magnify the joy.
Over dinner, the grief gave me a bigger appetite for the silliness and magic of my girls. I appreciated even more the sense of wonder and possibility with which they see the world, the way they absorb new ideas and approach life with curiosity and compassion.
I experienced a new, embodied understanding of what I read in Rabbi Sacks’ teachings many times: in the presence of grief, joy is not diminished; it is even more vibrant and alive.